Hugo Ball, often considered the founder of the Dadaism Art Movement once said, “For us, art is not an end in itself…but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in”.

Dadaism or the Dada art movement was a European experimental art movement that emerged in the early 20th century. Dadaism flourished in an artistic nightclub in Zurich called ‘Cabaret Voltaire’ founded by German artist Hugo Ball. The movement was set in motion as a response to World War I and the rejection of a capitalist society. It exhibited irrational, unorthodox, and sometimes wild concepts of art. Dada art aimed at creating a mockery of materialistic, capitalist, and nationalistic attitudes which Dada artists believed gave rise to the War.

From Berlin to Paris to New York, its effect was felt everywhere and influenced many artists, architects, designers, and photographers. The Dada movement set the foundation for various future art movements and styles. Dadaism was preceded by movements like Cubism, Futurism, etc, and succeeded by Surrealism after 1922.

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The purpose of Dada art was to invoke curiosity, raise uncomfortable questions and shake the societal norms. This theory can be witnessed in many architectural designs around the world today.

While there were no specific elements that characterized this style, Dadaism can be summed up as rebellious and spontaneous in nature, relying on shock value to impact the audience and challenge the existing art and culture scene. Rather than traditional styles of painting, Dada art was expressed in the form of photomontages, photo manipulation, collages, and photography.

A provocative art movement, Dadaism was often referred to as ‘anti-art’ by many people. Artists like Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Hugo Ball, John Heartfield, Max Ernst, and Jean Arp are some notable Dadaists.

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The subtle impact of the Dada art movement can be observed in the architecture of that era. Architects like Antonio Gaudi, Henri Sauvage, Otto Wagner, and Adolf Loos began experimenting with materials, designs, and ornamentations. They designed buildings that were divergent from the pre-existing styles of architecture. The Glass Pavilion in Cologne designed by Bruno Taut was unlike any design that had been witnessed before. The structure is famous for its prismatic glass dome and the use of concrete and glass. The goal of his design was to create vivid experiences for anyone who visited it by evoking a sense of wonder. Antonio Gaudi’s organic forms and sculptural designs fascinate people even today. It is no coincidence that such risky, informal, and out-of-the-box designs emerged at the same time that Dadaism flourished. 

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This influence of expressive and unexpected design can also be witnessed in Erich Mendelsohn’s Einstein Tower in Potsdam.  Established in 1924, this astrophysics observatory is covered in white stucco and its organic design was very unique for its time. Other buildings of the Expressionist style of architecture like the Chilehaus in Hamburg by German architect Fritz Hoger are all descendants of Dada principles.

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Parallel to the Dada art movement, Industrial architecture became a growing practice and the likes of Walter Gropius were excelling at it. His design of the Fagus Factory in Germany was an amalgamation of steel frames and glass, conflicting with traditional designs, materials, and influences. 

Surrealism, a movement that came right after Dadaism also had its roots in the same principles. Salvador Dali’s surrealist works are a reflection of this. The word ‘bizarre’ is often used to describe his artwork.

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But the true influence of Dadaism in buildings can be seen long after the movement dissolved. Unsettling and shocking designs are more welcome today and seen as a sign of progress and modernism. But we have to give credit to the Dada art movement for instilling this curiosity in artists and designers today to explore controversial and experimental design concepts. 

In the late 20th century, architects like Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, and Daniel Libeskind took even more liberty with their design approach which gave birth to styles like Deconstructivism and Blobitecture. At the core of the Dada art movement was the impulse to challenge the ‘normal’ and create unpredictable art. Deconstructivism and Blobitecture did just that. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, defied our perception of architecture by cladding the entire exterior of the building in stainless steel panels. The undulating curves and asymmetrical form of the building became Gehry’s signature style. The Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao are extraordinary structures that were well beyond the existing architectural style. This boldness and novelty in design can be traced back to Dadaism.

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Famous examples of Blobitecture include the Sage Gateshead designed by architect Norman Foster and Kunsthaus Graz, Austria designed by Colin Fournier and Peter Cook.

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Over the years, the core principles of the Dada art movement have manifested itself in many architectural styles and in other fields of art as well. We may not have realized it but rebellious and controversial themes in any creative field are the offspring of a monumental movement known to us as Dadaism. And it is truly a wonder that despite occurring for a very short period of time, this movement has had a lasting impact on every discipline of art and creativity that we can imagine.

Author

Manvie Prusty considers herself a work in progress. Currently pursuing her fourth year as an architecture student, she aspires to be a spatial designer by day and a compulsive writer by night. She’s an eclectic design junkie, globetrotter, and an avid reader. 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is her favourite novel.

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